Sucking At Something Is The First Step To Becoming Sorta Good At Something

Let me tell you something not-so secret: I’m not really a Cha-Cha person. Up until I had to learn a routine for the competition last month, I would actively avoid doing it. The same goes for Tango. Tango intrigues me, but back when I started all this, I got the basics of Tango from three different people, and they all focused on different things, and it has never really coalesced into a functional thing for me.

But Cha-Cha… I managed to work with my dance partner to get our routine down so that it looked passable. And we spent a lot of time practicing it to make sure we had the right chasse at the right point with the right foot. After feeling passable with it, we decided that it would be helpful to go to the Cha-Cha group class they were offering this month on Tuesdays. So last night, that’s where we ended up together.

As we walked in, Lord Fabulous caught sight of us, stopped in the middle of the newcomer class he was teaching, and shouted “Happy Danciversary!” I was pretty surprised he remembered. It was just a year ago this week that this whole crazy journey started, when I met Sir Steven for the first time.

My dance partner and I went off to the back corner to change our shoes and practice some of the things we were working on for East-Coast Swing. The newcomer class was finishing up, and they were going over the basics of Mambo. When Lord Fabulous put on a Lou Bega number, my dance partner asked me if I wanted to do our Mambo routine we learned for the competition quick. So we were off in the corner, running through the routine, without worrying about being precise, and just laughing about things. Lord Fabulous comes over while Lady Q was demonstrating things to the class and wished me a much more subdued anniversary congratulations, and asked us if we would be willing to do our routine in front of all the newcomers as their class wrapped up. My dance partner and I exchanged looks, and agreed to it.

As the class is wrapping up, Lord Fabulous makes an announcement to all of them, explaining to them that it had been a year of learning for me, and asked each of us to explain to the class what had gotten us started, what we enjoyed most… questions that I’m sure were meant to show the newcomers that sticking with the studio means something. I let my dance partner talk the most, because no one really wants to hear from a guy when there is a good looking woman standing there. Sucking1Then they turned up the same Lou Bega song that started this whole ordeal and we ran through our routine for a few minutes, and then it was over.

Go team, right?

The whole experience has gotten me to reflect on the last year though. I remember starting this ordeal, going to the newcomer classes and learning the basic forms of everything. There were all those personal lessons where Sir Steven would put on a song and ask what dance would be done to the music playing (and at first, the answer was always Hustle, because it always seemed like it would work). Now, I compare what we put together for our routines, even for something like the Cha-Cha routine that I admitted earlier I wasn’t fond of, against the basic steps that those newcomers in class last night were learning – the same steps I learned a year ago when I started; if I didn’t know any better, I wouldn’t think they were the same dances. It makes me wonder if I will do the same thing next year. If I manage to stick with it, will the things I can do then look nothing like what I am learning to do now? Will I manage to unlock all of the Bronze III techniques and start on Bronze IV things this year? Will my dance partner and I achieve a level noteworthy enough that the royalty of the kingdom starts to know our name?

There is a small group of us from the Land of the Loft that has kind of bonded together, mostly due to almost all of us being in the last competition. Last Friday, after the social dance, we all took off together and went to get ice cream nearby. It’s a very strange group to see from the outside, if you didn’t know any more about us. There are a couple of girls still in their teens, a few of us who are around 30, and one couple who is somewhere in their 60s. In a way, it’s nice to spend time with other people who have the same hobby, because then they don’t think you are weird for spending so much time doing something. I don’t know if the other lands in the Dance Kingdom spend time together like we do. During the last couple of dance shows, we were the only group that was standing together taking pictures. The group shots from the competition ended up on Facebook so that everyone can see them.

In case you missed the pictures on Facebook, here's us (from left): Princess, Diane, Jack (hiding), Bony, Sparkledancer, me, Sir Steven, Flexy, Derpy Bird, Lady Q, Lord Fabulous and Miracle Whip.
In case you missed the pictures on Facebook, here’s us (from left): Princess, Diane, Jack (hiding behind Bony), Bony, Sparkledancer, me, Sir Steven, Flexy, Derpy Bird, Lady Q, Lord Fabulous and Miracle Whip.

The thing my dance partner and I talked about was trying to include others in the group, so new people don’t feel so intimidated by all of us. There are a few men that I know several of the women want to exclude specifically, because they rub them the wrong way, but other than that pre-identified group there may be some outreach efforts. We are going to be sort-of like dance ambassadors, as my dance partner coined. If we make friends with newcomers, and make them feel like they have friends at the studio, they will be more likely to stick around longer. A lot of people that start dancing drop out after a month or two, so we will identify people and hopefully give them a reason to stay, other than learning dancing for dancing’s sake.

Especially single men. They are in short supply, and it would be a great help to make them want to come to class. Trust me, I could use some help some nights.

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World of Floorcraft

The big thing sticking with me after the competition is my failure to really avoid people during the ballroom routines. Learning the floorcraft skill is really not something that canFloorcraft1 be easily taught by someone else, even someone as wise and knowledgeable as Sir Steven. No, this is going to be one of those skills that I’m going to have to grind out to get to a higher level. A trial by fire, as it were. I’ll have to get out there and bump into people until I learn how to avoid bumping into people. There’s just no better way.

See, in that respect women have it easy. Not only do they get to do the majority of the things on the dance floor that are fun (like all the spinning), but they don’t really have to worry too much about where they are going, assuming their partner is doing things right. Me? I have to maintain good form and technique, but also in the traveling ballroom dances I have to assess the floor, assess the other dancers on the floor, plan what steps I am going to lead the girl through four or five steps in advance, and also know enough that I can alter my plan if someone on the floor does something unexpected and I have to go around them. It’s a lot of work. As I’ve said to people in the past, something like Waltz for me is not really a physical workout, but a mental one. It’s daunting.

Last week I started my quest to raise my level in this skill. Lucky for me, this month they are offering a Waltz group class, which is always helpful because it forces me to concentrate on that style during that time period. I am also making it a point to get out on the floor during the Friday night social dances and do the ballroom routines. Last Friday I did OK during a Waltz with my competition dance partner, and I led one of the other ladies from the studio through a Foxtrot without hitting anything, but I still have a long way to go. I am going to master the twinkle (yes, a boy mentioned twinkling; don’t laugh) and hesitation techniques, so that I have something to do that doesn’t look out of place when I need to avoid people. Currently, I have a tendency to just try and rotate around people when I get stuck, which sometimes does not end well for me.

Sigh… obviously these are first-world problems I am struggling with.

Keep that in mind ladies: I am there to lead, and make you look and feel good about what you are doing. It’s not as easy as it looks. There is a lot of thought that goes into it, so that we aren’t just repeating the same thing over and over again. If it’s getting toward the end of the night, and the guy you are dancing with slips into some memorized contest routine instead of something you’ve never done before, give him a break. We try, and sometimes it is better to rely on muscle memory than to attempt to be spontaneous. There’s a reason that, as I climb farther up the level of difficulty, there are less and less men in the classes with me, so promise to be nice to the ones that make it that far.

We have not gotten back our actual numeric scores from the competition yet. Sir Steven said that last Saturday he was going to be picking them up, but I completely forgot to ask him about the sheet last night while I was there. Deep down, I am still nervous about seeing the scores that Miracle Whip (the celebrity judge, not the sandwich spread) gave us. It was my first sort-of-real competition, so I know there are things I did not do well. Miracle Whip told us at the end, when they were announcing the placement of all the competitors, that we were fun to watch dance together. I don’t know if that means we did OK, and we were really fun, or if that was some kind of conciliatory remark because he saw all the times I forgot to do something I should know better. Maybe I will get them tonight, when I am back for Waltz class. Maybe it will wait until Saturday, during the private lesson with Sir Steven so we can discuss what the scores mean. Maybe they are holding on to the sheet so they can show all the other professionals they know and make fun of me for my failures. Who knows?

Miracle Whip needs a better tan, am I right?
Miracle Whip needs a better tan, am I right?

Also, this Saturday the Land of the Loft  studio, our home studio, will be hosting a disco-themed party for the residents of the Dance Kingdom. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend that night, due to a prior commitment. However, the Princess has said that before the party, she is coming out to take part in the fitness classes that are hosted at our studio Saturday mornings. That’s a bit daunting. My dance partner talked me into taking part in these classes with her a long time ago, and Lady Q seems to like having me in her Pilates class early in the morning. But to have the Princess there? I do a lot of yoga, so I am more flexible than most everyone else in that class, but I don’t know if I want the Princess to know that. It’s like… playing games in gym class back in elementary school while the teacher is watching. You never do things quite as well while a person of power is watching you. We’ll have to see what happens. Wish me luck!

And The Winner Is…

Let me tell you the important things that I learned from competing this weekend:
1) I am not as elegant as I believed myself to be.
The morning was the ballroom dances. We had two routines for that – Slow Waltz and Foxtrot. First off, out of all the people we met that were competing during the day, there were really only three couples that did not have a dance instructor as one half of the pairing. Even with all the professionals on the floor, we still ended up running in to people. I felt like a complete tool. The ballroom class of dances is really my weak point, and based on the experience this weekend, I am going to have to heel-step up my game if I ever want to compete again.

Winner2) West Coast Swing is not a widely studied dance in the Dance Kingdom.
As we had prepared for our showcase dance months ago (which was an East Coast Swing routine), I had asked one weekend what the difference was between the two coasts of swing dancing, since I had never seen the other done before. Based on that conversation, Sir Steven had bribed us, offering to teach us the basics of West Coast Swing if my dance partner and I really practiced our showcase routine during the week. Well, we met that challenge, and that’s what filled us with love for that style. One of the routines we learned for this competition was for the West Coast Swing. We were signed up for two heats for that, and when we did them… we were the only ones on the floor. I’d have to say, I feel like we may have firmly gotten third place in those heats – maybe even second, if they grade us on the Bronze II scale.

3) When you compete against professionals, you are bound to lose.
At the end of the day, our last heat was the three-dance rhythm competition round. My dance partner and I were the only couple competing in that round (out of a total of six couples) that did not have a professional dancing with us. Needless to say, when they announced the results at the end of the day, we came in 6th place. Really, looking at our competition, I would not have expected us to do any different. We have not been dancing together that long (or dancing at all for that long, for that matter), so there’s just no way we would be expected to do better than a female led by a male instructor. There were no female instructor/male student pairs either, which would have been a slightly more even pairing, since the non-professional is expected to lead.

All in all, it was a good time. It will be interesting to see the notes from the celebrity judge when we get the actual numeric scores for all the heats on this coming Saturday. We can use that to determine what we need to work harder on in practice, and maybe see where Sir Steven thinks we should move in our dance journey. When we saw him tonight for a group class, he told us to come prepared for a new learning experience at our next private lesson together… I don’t know what that means, but hopefully it is a good thing.

As an aside – that outfit that I ordered for the rhythm section of the competition that hadn’t arrived in time to use? Well, they called me while I was at work Monday morning to complain that I wasn’t home to sign for the package when they attempted to deliver it. Two days too late. That figures, doesn’t it?

Endless Waltz

Turns out that I was right – rotating that much in our Bolero routine was weird. Even Sir Steven thought so. We altered things so now instead of four ninety degree turns, we are doing two 180 degree turns. It took a bit to master those, but I think they will make the whole routine flow better.

The biggest thing left to get comfortable with is our Waltz routine. It’s one of those things that my partner and I do not get to practice together from start to Waltz1finish all that often. When we are at the studio, it’s hard to find a track going all around the outside of the room without running into people. Mostly we have practiced sections of it – use the same wall, go from one corner to the next, and then go back to start and use the same wall again. Mentally I can link the pieces together, but that doesn’t always work in practice. So for the rest of this week, we are using a section of street in front of my house to practice the routine all the way around the “room” – it is the biggest place I could think of where there was nothing to run into (aside from the occasional car). It’s more difficult than it sounds, practicing on the street. On the one hand, we are now doing it in sneakers, so turning and pivoting on the asphalt is really non-existent. On the other hand, the street slopes gradually – it has a rise as you move away from the middle of the road (for drainage), and it also slopes uphill toward the intersection, so it seems I am fighting to lead her uphill constantly.

I’m not sure how many heats we are signed up for in the Waltz, but we should be pretty good at it by the time Saturday morning rolls around. Maybe Waltzing non-stop on those hills will make the flat ballroom seem like a breeze once we get out on it.

One thing I didn’t think about in preparation for all this was that there was a dance party after dinner. So, instead of two outfits, I think I am going to need to bring three. Hopefully I don’t forget between now and then. I think I heard that it’s a cocktail-type party. That’s one thing that being a member of the Dance Kingdom affords you: plenty of occasions to get dressed up. A number of the women from our studio and my dance partner went out this weekend to a Waltz2nearby mall to try and find a dress for Flexy to wear as she performs. The story I got back was that another of the women also bought another dress while there, even though she already has a whole slew of them. Her excuse was that, since she goes to so many more fancy parties now than she used to, she feels like she can’t wear the same things all the time. I know my dance partner has said similar things to me as well. This is part of the reason why dancing is an expensive hobby, I feel.

(Don’t get me wrong – there’s a good chance I may use the same excuse to talk myself into buying some more fancy dress up clothes someday. It’s not just the females who get judged based on their appearance in this realm.)

There’s a big part of me that can’t wait for Saturday to be over either. This last month has been crazy, learning all the routines, refining them, continuing to study other random things (like Quick Step) – all in the hope that when the contest comes we won’t let Sir Steven down, and maybe even gain a glimmer of recognition in the eyes of the Princess or the King. It’s kind of exhausting. The Sunday after the contest I may not even get out of bed. So… wish us luck! We’ll see just how regal this experience actually is in just five days!